Hochul signs Rape is Rape Act

The law expands the definition of rape in New York to include non-penetrative forced sexual contact.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, flanked by bill sponsors state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, left, and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, right.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, flanked by bill sponsors state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, left, and Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, right. Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul officially wrapped up 2023 legislative business on Tuesday when she signed the so-called Rape is Rape Act. It was the last bill left from last year that the governor had not addressed, and she signed it alongside a chapter amendment that lawmakers approved yesterday.

The Rape is Rape Act, sponsored by Assembly Member Catalina Cruz and state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, will expand the definition of rape in the criminal law to include forms of forced sexual conduct and sexual assault that don’t technically fall under the rape charge currently because they don’t involve penetration. Beginning in September, the definition of rape will include forced vaginal, oral and anal sexual contact. Lawmakers in the Assembly passed a version of the bill 12 times before, but last year was the first time members of the state Senate approved it.

Hochul said she has made it her mission to better protect women in the state of New York as the first female governor, and that signing the Rape is Rape Act continues that mission. “Today we're bringing the language of the law in line with what survivors have been forced to endure,” Hochul said, noting that rape can be hard to prosecute in part because of the narrow legal definition. “We’re reassuring survivors: when they walk into a police station or approach the witness stand, the full weight of the law in the state of New York is behind them,” Hochul said. 

She was joined by Cruz and Hoylman-Sigal who emphasized how the bill would expand protections for the LGBTQ community and reduce legal gray areas. 

Normally, the governor must act on bills passed by the Legislature in the same year. Once lawmakers send a bill to her desk, she has 10 non-Sundays to sign or veto it – otherwise it automatically becomes law. But the Rape is Rape Act was sent to the governor when there were fewer than 10 days left in the year. Under an accepted reading of state law, that triggered a 30-day window for action instead, followed by an automatic veto if the governor doesn’t act. The rape legislation was the last bill from 2023 for Hochul to act on.

About the extended negotiation period for the bill, Hochul said she consulted district attorneys over the holidays to make sure the bill didn’t run into any issues. “They raised a number of concerns about how this change in language could affect countless other pending current cases and past cases, they want to make sure that this is only prospective going forward,” Hochul said. “And so that was important to just clarify.”

On Monday, lawmakers approved a chapter amendment for the legislation. It made technical changes to the bill passed last year, pushing back its effective date to September, tweaking the definition of “sexual conduct” and clarifying that the changes don’t apply retroactively to conduct that took place before the effective date. Normally, lawmakers pass chapter amendments based on an agreement with the governor after she had already signed the legislation in question into law. This time, lawmakers appeared to act proactively instead. 

A Monday press release announcing the passage of the chapter amendments described it as “clearing the way” for Hochul to sign the 2023 bill. “Over the last decade, the Assembly Majority has fought to pass this legislation updating outdated language in our laws to call these horrific crimes what they are – rape – and ensuring that survivors of sexual assault are able to seek justice,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement. “It is long past time that this statute made it into our lawbooks.” Hochul signed both the 2023 Rape is Rape Act and the new amendments on Tuesday.

A total of three bills carried over from 2023 into the new year. Hochul signed two of them on Friday with approval memos indicating that lawmakers would make some technical changes to the new laws.